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Okay, it's time for me to come clean about my relationship with Tom Waits. Yes, he is a cool dude. Yes, he has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him popular with the literati. Yes, he toes the line of self parody on occasion. And yes, the first time I heard a Tom Waits song was when I saw Shrek.

Now before you get all judgmental about how I could be in my twenties and not have heard a Tom Waits song, remember: There was a time when you didn't know things either. There was a time before we all loved Du Champ and his toilet. There was a time before we all knew Kurosawa directed films, and instead confused his name with a popular Japanese method of suicide. And there was a time when Hari Kiri wasn't eviscerating yourself with a sword, but instead was the Chicago Cubs play-by-play guy that Will Ferrel impersonated from time to time. Now he's dead (Harry Caray, not Will Ferrell), we're all well-cultured, and hopefully you've forgotten about how I came across Tom Waits.

But by the time my dad pulled out this Tom Waits album from 1974 and handed it to me for the site, not only had I heard plenty of Tom Waits, I had become a big fan. Strangely enough, the first album I fell in love with was Swordfishtrombones, perhaps his least-accessible record. His voice on that record was what got me. He took the snarl of Captain Beefheart and deepened it into a bluesy growl, the perfect choice for the malcontents he sang about.

So The Heart of Saturday Night was somewhat surprising. It's still Tom Waits, but was only his second record, and the ten year patina of cigarettes and bourbon hadn't yet accumulated. So the songs sound a little less aggressive, and some are downright beautiful. My favorite is Shiver Me Timbers, a gorgeous gem in which Waits sounds as commercial as Bob Carlisle singing "Christmas Shoes." (I know that disgusts you, and it should, but listen.) The piano playing on Shiver Me Timbers cannot go unnoticed either.

Sure, there are a few misses here (Diamonds On My Windshield seems like it's making fun of itself) but this album's title says it all. You throw this record on this weekend, have some erudite buddies over, and smoke a thousand cigarettes. Eventually, you'll find it - The Heart of Saturday Night.

[ mp3 ]: Tom Waits - Shiver Me Timbers
[ mp3 ]: Tom Waits - The Heart of Saturday Night

-N.W.



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